Time to challenge faith based admissions?

In the latest twist in the faith school admissions saga, the Telegraph revealed last week that there has been a “surge in late baptisms to get into top Catholic schools”. Apparently the proportion of both Catholic and Anglican baptisms which are of older children is increasing. The article suggests that this is because when they come to think about schools, parents realise that baptism is the first key step towards entry to a church school.

The evidence for this conclusion is perhaps fragile. The church’s response was that “the move was indicative of more modern attitudes towards Catholic traditions, which has also seen a sharp decline in those taking part in confession and following rules on contraception. The social control exercised by the bishops and clergy over the Catholic laity has been hugely reduced” – a comment that perhaps is of interest in its own right regardless of whether it addresses the issue of school admissions.

That such an article should appear in the Telegraph however is in itself significant. It tells us that the idea that church school admissions are riddled with fraud and hypocrisy is becoming mainstream. Two rather more substantial pieces of work have added weight to this proposition recently.

The Sutton Trust, late last year, published a significant piece of research on how parental choice actually works (http://www.suttontrust.com/news/news/almost-a-third-of-professional-parents-have-moved-home-for-a/). One feature was to ask parents what they might be prepared to do to get into the school of their choice. Amongst better off parents some 10% had actually attended church purely to get a school place. Earlier research quoted in the report showed that some 20% of parents “said that they would lie or exaggerate their religious beliefs” to get a school place.

Most important though has been the magnificent piece of work by the Fair Admissions Campaign (at http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/) which showed beyond any doubt just how socially selective church schools actually are. The core finding is that “schools with no religious character typically admit 11% more pupils eligible for free school meals than would be expected. However, Church of England schools admit 10% fewer; Roman Catholic schools 24% fewer; Jewish schools 61% fewer; and Muslim schools 25% fewer.”

This data is based on an analysis of every faith school. It makes it possible is to identify the actual schools that are most selective – and indeed those that are not. The research shows that:
“Only 16% of schools select by religion but they are vastly overrepresented in the 100 worst offenders* on free school meal eligibility and English as an additional language. They make up 46 of the worst 100 schools on FSM eligibility and 50 of the worst 100 on EAL. If grammar schools, University Technical Colleges and Studio schools are excluded, religiously selective schools account for 73 of the worst 100 on FSM eligibility and 59 of the worst 100 on EAL.”

*By worst offenders they mean the schools that are most different from their locality in terms either of free meal numbers and EAL numbers.

The research also identifies non- religious schools that have intakes that are untypical of their area. We know of course about grammar schools and how few poorer children get into them. Perhaps more surprising is that two of the early UTC show the same pattern – indeed Aston UTC is in the worst 1% of schools for both FSM and EAL. The same is true of some so-called comprehensives. There is a detailed job of work needed to understand how those schools manage to get such favoured intakes.

But, to come back to the faith issue, this is beginning to feel like an issue that is moving at long last into the mainstream. Until very recently it has been filed, even by many opponents of faith schools, as too hot to touch. And of course in this area at least, despite Alistair Campbell’s advice, New Labour did do God.

But now the understanding that many parents play the system is out into the open. Some Church of England bishops have been sufficiently embarrassed by the situation to propose some changes, though they have soon been slapped down by those with an interest in the status quo.

Ideally, selection by faith would go completely in the interests of social cohesion. But even if we’re not ready for that, there is much that can be done. A revised admissions code could outlaw many of the tricks played by many church schools. Most important would be making basic church membership (i.e. baptism) the only allowable criterion – why after all should church schools be allowed to give priority to the most stable, best organised families – those who can show an unblemished record of church attendance not to mention their contribution to church activities?

And of course there is the basic question – how do these faiths square this state of affairs with what they claim to be their social mission?

ps Telegraph readers beware – late baptism is not good enough for the London Oratory. You get twice as many points for baptism in the first six months!

Advertisements

4 Comments on “Time to challenge faith based admissions?”

  1. David Pavett says:

    All these shenanigans provide further strong evidence for the view that it is not possible to have an inclusive school system while maintaining a system of state-financed faith schools.

    Another fact which should be borne in mind when considering this problem is the marked decline of religiosity in the population as a whole. There has report on report and poll on poll about this. The results of the latest poll carried out by YouGov is in the current (January) issue of Prospect.

  2. You seem to be using figures based on the old scam of comparing the FSM% of a school with the FSM% of the area a faith school is “located” in, rather than with its catchment area or its LA. If you sincerely think the resulting figures show an injustice then you simply have to ask yourself, would it be more socially just if faith schools moved to wealthier areas (and were thereby less convenient for those people of the relevant faith group who live in poorer areas)? I would suggest that the answer is “no”, but if there was an exodus of faith schools from disadvantaged areas then that would solve the alleged disparity.

    As it is, these figures condemn schools for being in walking distance of where poor people live. Which is probably why they seem to suggest that the Church of England, which has a lot of primaries in very wealthy areas, is the least selective. By contrast, the religious groups which are supposedly more selective than the C of E by these figures all seem to be from religions where their schools were originally set up in poor areas, usually to serve an immigrant population.

    The figures are drivel. That should be obvious.

    • Richy Thompson says:

      Hi, first of all the map (and hence figures quoted) only deals with secondary schools thus far – so your CofE primary school theory doesn’t fit.

      Secondly, if you compare schools to their LAs instead of more local vicinities then you seem exactly the same socio-economic selection occurring. And if you look at the penultimate FAQ at http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/ then that deals with ideas that it’s just due to different schools having different catchment areas, or being located in more deprived areas (looking at claims made by the Catholic Education Service in particular):

      ‘Catchment areas for religiously selective schools are sometimes wider than local authorities, especially for secondary schools in unitary authorities, although it is debatable the extent to which this is justifiable as an excuse. However, primary Catholic school intakes are generally not larger than local authorities, and they also take significantly fewer pupils eligible for FSM than others in their LAs. In addition, as a rough approximation for secondary schools, if we focus just on Catholic schools in large counties, then we find that they have 77% as many pupils eligible for FSM as the other schools in their LAs: in line with Catholic schools in general. This is hardly surprising, as one would expect that where there are peculiar local affects due to catchment sizes (i.e. a school happening to be in a poor/rich part of a richer/poorer local authority), these are equally likely to affect a school positively as negatively – and so any such local affects are likely to cancel themselves out in the aggregate, which they do not.

      ‘…Indeed, there is further evidence that religiously selective admissions policies are socio-economically selective that cannot be explained away by questioning FSM as a measure. Allen and West found in 2011 that ‘higher-income religious families are more likely to have a child at a faith school than lower-income religious families’, writing that ‘Significantly, within the groups of both Church of England and Roman Catholic families, children from top quartile households are statistically significantly more likely to attend faith schools, though the differences are not very large (9 versus 8% for Church of England families and 52 versus 47% for Roman Catholic families)’. In 2009 they also examined ten highly socio-economically selective Roman Catholic and Church of England secondary schools in London (five of each), and found that they had fewer pupils eligible for FSM than at neighbouring schools of the same denomination; they also found that ‘In all five [Catholic] schools, criteria and practices that could enable pupils to be ‘selected in’ or ‘selected out’ were used. According to the 2001 survey of school admissions, all five schools interviewed pupils and/or parents, one used banding and one used the academic record of siblings as part of the admissions process to decide which pupils of those who applied should be offered a place at the school.’ And ‘All five [CofE] schools required the demonstration of religious adherence. In addition, three interviewed pupils and/or parents; two used banding (in one case this was banding skewed towards higher ability pupils); one selected a proportion of pupils on the basis of aptitude in languages; two gave priority to children of former pupils; one used ‘compassionate’ factors; and one gave priority to pupils with pastoral reasons. Only one school used none of these admissions criteria or practices.’ Some of these practices have since been banned by the School Admissions Code.

      ‘Finally, in their 2010 report Unlocking the Gates, Barnardo’s found that their ‘services in Bradford and Luton have found themselves advising increasing numbers of newly arrived eastern European families in recent years. While these families are often devout Catholics and wish their children to attend a faith school, they can struggle to meet the priority admissions criteria for local Catholic secondary schools. In Luton for example, some have only recently arrived or have moved around the city and therefore have not had consistent enough attendance at a particular church to be able to gain the required reference from a priest; others are denied admission because they failed to gain entry (particularly if they arrived mid-year) into a Catholic primary school which operates as a “feeder” to the secondary school.’’

  3. “Hi, first of all the map (and hence figures quoted) only deals with secondary schools thus far – so your CofE primary school theory doesn’t fit.”

    I didn’t have a theory about C of E primaries, I just said I thought it ridiculous that a denomination known for its primaries in wealthy areas could be the least selective. I hadn’t realised your statistics were secondary only, but it still seems highly implausible that the C of E could be the least selective, given those primaries will be feeder schools for its secondaries.

    “Secondly, if you compare schools to their LAs instead of more local vicinities then you seem exactly the same socio-economic selection occurring.”

    You seem to have missed the source for this claim.

    “And if you look at the penultimate FAQ at http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/ then that deals with ideas that it’s just due to different schools having different catchment areas, or being located in more deprived areas (looking at claims made by the Catholic Education Service in particular): ‘Catchment areas for religiously selective schools are sometimes wider than local authorities, especially for secondary schools in unitary authorities, although it is debatable the extent to which this is justifiable as an excuse. However, primary Catholic school intakes are generally not larger than local authorities, and they also take significantly fewer pupils eligible for FSM than others in their LAs.”

    So just to check here. When we were dealing with secondaries with huge catchment areas we compared schools with their immediate locality?

    But when dealing with primaries, with much smaller catchment areas, we are comparing with the entire LA?

    Isn’t that precisely the reverse of what would make sense? This stinks of cherry-picking.

    “In addition, as a rough approximation for secondary schools, if we focus just on Catholic schools in large counties, then we find that they have 77% as many pupils eligible for FSM as the other schools in their LAs: in line with Catholic schools in general.”

    Why are we looking at large counties not large cities?

    “This is hardly surprising, as one would expect that where there are peculiar local affects due to catchment sizes (i.e. a school happening to be in a poor/rich part of a richer/poorer local authority), these are equally likely to affect a school positively as negatively – and so any such local affects are likely to cancel themselves out in the aggregate, which they do not.”

    Hang on, doesn’t that assume that the areas where faith schools are located are, on average, no richer or poorer than the average for the local authority? Isn’t that precisely what’s at issue here?

    “‘…Indeed, there is further evidence that religiously selective admissions policies are socio-economically selective that cannot be explained away by questioning FSM as a measure. Allen and West found in 2011 that ‘higher-income religious families are more likely to have a child at a faith school than lower-income religious families’, writing that ‘Significantly, within the groups of both Church of England and Roman Catholic families, children from top quartile households are statistically significantly more likely to attend faith schools, though the differences are not very large (9 versus 8% for Church of England families and 52 versus 47% for Roman Catholic families)’.”

    You are going to base a complaint on that kind of difference? Couldn’t that be down to a tiny minority of faith schools being too selective? Or to minor features of the methodology?

    “In 2009 they also examined ten highly socio-economically selective Roman Catholic and Church of England secondary schools in London (five of each), and found that they had fewer pupils eligible for FSM than at neighbouring schools of the same denomination; they also found that ‘In all five [Catholic] schools, criteria and practices that could enable pupils to be ‘selected in’ or ‘selected out’ were used. ”

    So the most selective schools a) scored on a test of being selective and b) used selective practices? I’m shocked.

    “‘Finally, in their 2010 report Unlocking the Gates, Barnardo’s found that their ‘services in Bradford and Luton have found themselves advising increasing numbers of newly arrived eastern European families in recent years. While these families are often devout Catholics and wish their children to attend a faith school, they can struggle to meet the priority admissions criteria for local Catholic secondary schools. In Luton for example, some have only recently arrived or have moved around the city and therefore have not had consistent enough attendance at a particular church to be able to gain the required reference from a priest; others are denied admission because they failed to gain entry (particularly if they arrived mid-year) into a Catholic primary school which operates as a “feeder” to the secondary school.’’

    Now I agree that is a serious injustice, it must be hard for faith schools to accommodate an influx of new members of their faith group. The obvious answer to that though would surely be to increase the number of faith schools?